Dissent in poll-bound Himachal against Agnipath scheme, paper leak scam: Congress working chief (IANS Interview)
Chandigarh, June 29 (IANS) There is a strong resentment in poll-bound Himachal Pradesh against the Centre's Agnipath scheme for four-year contractual recruitment in the defence recruitment.
The BJP government led by Jai Ram Thakur is riddled with scams, ranging from the recruitment of police personnel to issuance of fake degrees at a price tag of Rs 4 lakh to Rs 10 lakh.
The main opposition Congress has been in full 'battle gear' to take head-on the ruling government in the assembly polls likely in November.
These were the views of two-time Congress legislator Rajinder Rana, who has learnt political lessons for years from his once-mentor and BJP's two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, to whom he "taught" lesson by defeating him in the 2017 assembly elections.
He had defeated BJP's chief ministerial candidate Dhumal in a straight contest by 1,919 votes in Sujanpur, the seat the latter was asked to contest from.
In an interview with IANS here on Wednesday, Rana, who is one of the party's state working Presidents, said there is strong resent among the youth and people of Himachal Pradesh, who felt proud to serve the nation by donning an army fatigue, against the contractual recruitment in the armed forces.
"In my constituency, every third house has a family member in the armed forces. In some house, there are two-three family members serving the nation," Rana, a known social worker in the area who was once the election manager of Dhumal and he knows his family well, told IANS.
He said people of the Himalayan state, where there is 16 lakh unemployed, want to serve the nation owing to lack of work opportunities in the state. "They are also sturdy to serve the armed forces."
"The Agnipath scheme is a fraud with the people of the state. There is a strong dissent even among parents of aspirant soldiers as you are going to employ a soldier at the age of 17-18 years when he has not even completed his education. At the age of 21-22, 75 per cent of them will be sent home without any social security incentive, including pension. We protest this scheme and it will be our main election issue," realtor-turned-politician Rana, who won Sujanpur seat in Hamirpur district for the first time in the 2012 assembly polls as an Independent candidate by a margin of 14,116 votes, told IANS.
The hill state has around 1.20 lakh serving defence personnel and almost equal number of ex-servicemen largely settled in Una, Kangra, Hamirpur, Bilaspur and Mandi districts.
A large number of protesters tried to reach Dharamsala town in Kangra district where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to hold a roadshow on June 16, but were stopped by police several km before the venue.
The Congress is also eyeing to strengthen its vote bank against the resentment of government employees against the new pension scheme.
Rana said after the re-introduction of old pension scheme in the Congress-ruled Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the Congress in the state, if it returns to helm, will bring the old pension scheme.
The old scheme was done away by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's regime in December 2003. The national pension scheme took effect from April 1, 2004.
Around one lakh employees staged a protest in Shimla early this year, demanding scrapping of the new pension scheme. They say when it comes to financial benefits of the legislators, the government takes quick decision but when it comes to old pension benefits the employees, the government cites fund crunch.
There are about 2.25 state government employees, including about 30,000 contract, part-time, daily wage and para workers. The highest number of employees are employed in the education, public works, irrigation and public health, police and health departments.
Rana, who vacated the assembly seat and unsuccessfully contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Hamirpur as a Congress nominee, said the leaked paper of the constable recruitment examination is one of the biggest scams in the country.
The scam is currently being investigated by the CBI and is likely to put the ruling BJP government in embarrassment in the run-up to the assembly polls.
So was the multi-crore fake degree scams by Manav Bharti University in Solan.
"Police records say 43,000 fake degrees were sold by the university across the country. In reality, the number of fake degrees could be 4 to 10 lakh," said the Congress legislator, who holds allegiance with party veteran and six-time Chief Minister late Virbhadra Singh.
"The fake degree scam could be of over Rs 20,000 crore," he added.
The fake degree scam was unearthed in February 2019, a year after the University Grants Commission (UGC) received an anonymous complaint about the alleged sale of more than 5 lakh degrees by two private universities in Himachal, Manav Bharti University in Solan and APG in Shimla.
The Congress will soon announce a toll-free telephone number to get feedback from the public about the programmes to be included in its election manifesto.
"The Congress is totally united to take head on the ruling BJP. A strong anti-incumbency wave against the state ruling BJP -- evident from the loss of three Assembly and one parliamentary seat in the October 2021 bypolls -- will be seen in the assembly polls too.
"Also the state has been seeing a two-party system. A handful rebels from both the Congress and the BJP have been emerging from time to time, but after failing to mark their presence on the larger political landscape," said Rana, adding the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is nowhere in the picture in the state.